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Culture – the “X Factor” for Building Back Better after Conflict and Disasters

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Culture is the foundation upon which cities are built.  Cities are not just a collection of buildings but are people, their stories, and how they interact with each other through their cultural identity and sense of place.

As seen when one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable landmarks, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, was destroyed in 1993 during the Bosnian War, local communities demanded and prioritized a full rebuilding of the original bridge with a message loud and clear: “A person killed is one of us; the Bridge is all of us.”

Subsequently, international efforts supported by UNESCO and the World Bank helped rebuild the Old Bridge and restore the Old City of Mostar. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the restored Old Bridge and Old City of Mostar attracts tourists from around the world, creating jobs and revitalizing the local economy.

With the shared conviction that culture is critical to achieve sustainable urban development and to ensure effective post-crisis reconstruction and recovery processes, a new World Bank – UNESCO Position Paper, Culture in City Reconstruction and Recovery (CURE), was presented today at UNESCO Headquarters to propose an enhanced culture-based framework for city reconstruction and recovery that integrates both people-centered and place-based approaches.

Culture at the heart of people, spaces, and city recovery policies

Symbolizing the fundamental role culture plays in the recovery of a city’s physical, social, and economic fabrics from war and conflict, the story of Mostar is emblematic of today’s cities and communities worldwide.

“Culture is a key source of resilience, reconciliation, and social cohesion for cities and communities,” says Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. “As the partnership of UNESCO and the World Bank across the world told us, including in Haiti, Mali, Bosnia and Herzegovina, preserving culture is critical for post-crisis recovery and reconstruction processes.

As the world continues to urbanize at an unprecedented speed and scale, cities are increasingly bearing the brunt of conflicts, crises, and disasters. Natural hazards such as storms, floods, and earthquakes are becoming more intense and frequent, with a disproportionate impact on urban areas. Meanwhile, armed conflicts are becoming increasingly complex, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and causing widespread destruction in cities. Both are having a devastating effect on culture.

How can countries and cities best prepare themselves to effectively address increasing crises generated by acute urban distress?

Local contexts may vary, but successful policies must be both place-based as well as people-centered. While place-based strategies prioritize the reconstruction of physical assets, people-centered strategies can strengthen community ownership and social inclusion, improve livability of the built environment, and accelerate the socioeconomic recovery of cities.

At both the foundation and intersection of people and places lies the “X factor” of culture. Through cultural heritage and creativity, culture is essential as both an asset and a tool for city reconstruction and recovery. Without prioritizing culture, reconstruction processes can induce additional disruption of physical and social fabrics.

The CURE Framework

The CURE Framework provides guiding principles that integrate place-based and people-centered approaches through culture into sustainable urban development policies – to help cities effectively address the impact of urban crises.

“The CURE Framework marks an important milestone in the ongoing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO to advance sustainable urban development by investing in culture, urban regeneration, and resilience in an integrated manner,” says Sameh Wahba, World Bank Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.

The new framework and operational guidance takes policy-makers and practitioners through the planning, financing, and implementation process.  The CURE Framework highlights the foundational role of culture and emphasizes that effective city reconstruction and recovery programs require that culture be mainstreamed across the damage and needs assessments, as well as in policy and strategy setting, financing, and implementation. Finally, this collaborative effort recognizes that the integration of culture into post-crisis urban development and recovery can contribute substantially to making cities more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The report draws upon global experience to demonstrate progress being made on the ground. Whether it is building a citizenship culture in Medellin, Colombia, to counterbalance the city’s violent past or fostering peace-building through transparency and community engagement in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, culture is the centerpiece.

Other experiences include post-earthquake cultural heritage conservation and recovery of the Old Town of Lijiang, China; promoting reconciliation through preservation of cultural heritage in Nicosia, Cyprus; and improving disaster risk management for the conservation of monuments in Bagan, Myanmar. In Iraq, the World Bank and UNESCO are preparing to collaborate on the rehabilitation of Mosul, building on the CURE Framework, as part of UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative and the World Bank’s Emergency Operation for Development project.

According to the position paper, culture as the foundation for recovery often begins with the physical reconstruction of iconic landmarks such as the Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. At other times, the collective act of rebuilding shared heritage is the impetus for community rebirth, such as the post-conflict reconstruction process of religious and cultural sites in Timbuktu, Mali. Furthermore, Tokyo, Japan, demonstrates how a cultural construct approach, coupled with innovative land readjustment mechanisms, results in a resilient city that flourishes against many considerable odds. In the report, examples of Seoul, Republic of Korea, and Beirut, Lebanon, demonstrate that recovery without culture must eventually be adjusted to achieve sustainable results.

By adopting the CURE Framework, national and local leaders will be able to place culture at the heart of their own city reconstruction and recovery processes in the face of crises – whether they are disasters, armed conflicts, or urban distress situations – to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable cities and communities for all, which is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and eliminating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity at the local, regional, and national levels.

World Bank

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Arts & Culture

A Season of Classic Films: European classics screened at cultural heritage venues across Europe

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This summer, European film classics will be screened in some of Europe’s most iconic cultural heritage venues. From tomorrow until the end of September, classic films from across the EU will be screened free of charge in a wide variety of venues in 13 EU countries – from small towns to capital cities – highlighting Europe’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. As part of the wider restoration and digitisation of heritage films, the event series “A Season of Classic Films” is supported by Creative Europe MEDIA programme.

Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, said: “European cultural heritage, including our great film classics, should be accessible to everyone. I am pleased to see that the Season of Classic Films makes it possible for everyone interested to be part of an experience shared across Europe, even when attending a local event.”

Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, in charge of Digital Economy and Society, added: “Cinema is an essential part of our rich and diverse European culture and is contributing to reinforce bonds between people feeling the same passion and emotion for films. Digital transformation has a decisive potential to strengthen the positive effects of culture, both economically and socially. This is the challenge of our strategy Digital4Culture, to take advantage of this successful connection between digital technologies and culture.”

The classic films season starts tomorrow at the Bologna Film Festival with a presentation of some of the restored films shot using Gaumont’s Chronochrome colour system, one of the earliest colour filming techniques. Among the classic films to be screened throughout the season are some of the best-known titles in world cinema, including Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 blows” (1959), and “Cinema Paradiso” (1988) by Giuseppe Tornatore. The iconic venues hosting the screenings include Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki, Greece, Kilkenny Castle in Ireland, and the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna, Italy. The full programme of the season is available here.

Background

Since 1991, the European Commission has been supporting Europe’s audiovisual sector, contributing to is competitiveness and to cultural diversity in Europe, through the MEDIA Programme. One of its most substantial actions is providing financial support to the distribution of European films outside their country of production. Every year, on average over 400 films are made available to audiences in another European country with MEDIA’s help. In May 2018, the Commission proposed to increase the budget of the programme by almost 30% for the next EU long-term budget for 2021-2027.

Within this project, Creative Europe MEDIA will also fund the restoration and digitisation of heritage films in order to ensure that the European culture is passed down to future generations. The event series for this summer was planned as part of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage and reinforced by the Digital4Culture strategy.

“A Season of Classic Films” follows a first initiative, the “European Cinema Night”’, which programmed 50 free screenings of 20 MEDIA-supported films from 3 to 7 December 2018 across the EU and reached almost 7,200 people. The classic films season is expected to attract 15,000 Europeans to the free screenings.

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The Sounds of the Islands: Junkanoo Cultural Festival

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It starts with a deep drumbeat, a baritone sensation that vibrates within your chest. An instant tingle of rhythm journeys up your spine in anticipation of the cadence to come. What follows is nothing short of remarkable; a symphony of unconventional sounds blend together to create the most infectious melodies. This is Junkanoo: a long-standing semi-annual Bahamian tradition birthed from the islands’ early ancestors. Whistles, cowbells and even conch shells are used in this charismatic exhibition of island culture that is now revered around the world.  

History of the Tradition

The earliest rumoured origin stories for the bi-annual festival stems from an African Chief by the name of John Canoe. After being kidnapped and enslaved in the West Indies, John Canoe appealed for the right of his people to partake in their celebratory traditions. The most notable time for the festival to be orchestrated is around the Christmas holiday. The most illustrious part of the festival takes place on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day at the capital island of New Providence. On these days, what was once regarded as an expression of freedom and cultural identity has now transformed into one of the fiercest national competitions. On-lookers crowd the parade routes, cheering on their favourite groups and chanting competitive mantras from the bleachers. The four most famous Junkanoo groups face off at the parades every year in hopes to win prizes and highly coveted national bragging rights.

How to Experience Junkanoo Year Round

Due to the increased popularity of the Bahamian tradition, Junkanoo can now be experienced year-round. The splashy display of costumed dancers and musicians highlight many destination-weddings. Hosts desiring to offer guests an authentic and lively environment can contract a Junkanoo band to create a unique entertainment experience. If you are in attendance at any of the local seasonal festivals, you are sure to close out the day with a Junkanoo rush out.  In recent years, a junior edition of the Junkanoo competition has been added to the winter line up of events. The littlest natives of the island adorn painted faces and tiny drums in hand, skipping and twirling to the rhythmic music.

Whether you are a first-time visitor of the islands or one who calls The Bahamas home, once experienced, the rush of Junkanoo will never leave you.  

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Turning air pollution into art

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Photo by Studio Roosegaarde

Artists are known to take inspiration from the world around them. So it’s no surprise that some have begun shining light on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time—air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution, with 9 out of 10 people breathing toxic air. Air pollution is also known to contribute to climate change and so efforts to tackle it can also help address the climate crisis.

The time to act is now, and artists, like so many others are looking at ways to raise awareness about air pollution, find solutions to reduce it and even use it as a resource.

Pollution Pods

Michael Pinsky got inspired by the differences between the various types of air pollution, when he set out to make Pollution Pods. The project consists of five domes, each imitating air in five different areas of the world: Northern Norway, London, New Delhi, Beijing and São Paulo. As you move through the domes you experience varied levels and sources of air pollution.

“I wanted to have very different sensations from one dome to another,” Pinsky told UN Environment. “It’s not just a question of how strong the pollution is but that they have very different characteristics as well.”

For London, Pinsky recreates the smell of diesel. For Beijing, he mixes the smells of industrial fumes, coal or wood-based heating, and transportation emissions. While New Delhi whiffs of burnt plastic and grass, as citizens still burn a lot of their rubbish.

Luckily, the pollution is only in smell and visibility, without the actual harmful gases. But Pinsky says the experience still isn’t very pleasant. That’s the whole point: air pollution isn’t pleasant.

Pinsky hopes Pollution Pods will lead to a more “radical approach” when dealing with air pollution, particularly with transportation. “It’s not so easy to apply the same advocacy or philosophy towards different cities in the world,” he said. “But in some cases, you could turn the problem around in two years with the right policies.”

Smog-free towers

Daan Roosegaarde was motivated by living in Beijing and witnessing the city’s strive for economic development and citizen wellbeing, when he created the Smog-free Tower. The “largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world”, as Roosegaarde calls it, sucks up polluted air, cleans it and releases it back into the atmosphere.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not a minister, I cannot give 20 billion euros to green energy today. But I’m an engineer and an artist, I can create a clean-air park, like an oasis.’”

The premise is that the smog-free tower sits in a city park, making the air 20–70 per cent cleaner than the rest of the city. It uses positive ionisation technology, which Roosegaarde says is the only way to clean large volumes of ultra-fine particles while using little energy.

Towers are now found around the world in China, Poland, the Netherlands, and soon, South Korea and Mexico. It’s also led to a global campaign, with local partners in each country replicating the towers. Roosegaarde has now introduced the smog-free ring—made of compressed smog particles—and the smog-free bicycle as well.

“This is not utopia. It’s a pro-topia where we, step-by-step, try to improve our cities,” he said. “The grand goal is to have them not needed anymore, but until then, you do what you can to remain healthy.”

Air pollution-based ink

Anirudh Sharma was visiting his family in Mumbai, India, when he began to notice that in the evening his white shirts would gradually turn speckled with something that resembled dirt.

“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma told his alma matter Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. “This is a major health issue.”

When he returned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sharma decided to do something about the air pollution back home. So he set up Graviky Labs—a start-up that has developed a technology to attach to diesel exhaust systems to capture particulate matter. The team at Graviky treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for use by artists around the world.

So far, the start-up has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, or the equivalent of collecting 1.6 trillion litres of outdoor air.

“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma said.

UN Environment

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